MESOP : US WARPLANES FIGHT IS POSITIONS AROUND PALMYRA – Islamic Militants Break Into Museum in Palmyra, Syria

2015-05-24 – DAMASCUS (AP) — Islamic State fighters broke into the museum of Palmyra — though a Syrian official said its artifacts had been removed — while the U.S.-led coalition conducted air strikes on the group’s installations near the captured ancient town. The Department of Defense said U.S.-led coalition aircraft had attacked an Islamic State position near Palmyra, which goes by the modern name Tadmur, destroying six antiaircraft artillery systems and an artillery piece.

The Islamic State group captured Palmyra in the central province of Homs on Wednesday, raising concerns around the world that they will destroy priceless, 2,000-year-old temples, tombs and colonnades located in the town’s south. The strikes would appear to help the embattled forces of President Bashar Assad, which have had a succession of recent defeats to Islamic State fighters and other rebels. But experts and archeologists said the air strike, coming days after the group overwhelmed the city, was too little too late. “It is like closing the doors after the horses have bolted,” said Amr Al-Azm, a former Syrian antiquities official and now a professor at Shawnee State University in Ohio.

A picture circulated on Twitter accounts of Islamic State supporters showed the black flag used by the extremists raised over the town’s hilltop Islamic-era castle, a structure hundreds of years old. Al-Azm said the fact that the castle dates back to an Islamic civilization may protect it from the kind of destruction IS members have inflicted on pre-Islamic heritage sites such as the ancient cities of Hatra and Ninevah in Iraq.The group says the ancient relics promote idolatry, but it also maintains a lucrative business by excavating and selling such artifacts on the black market, according to antiquities authorities.Maamoun Abdulkarim, the head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus, said militants entered the museum in the town’s center Friday afternoon, locked the doors and left behind their own guards. He said the artifacts earlier had been moved away to safety. “We feel proud as all the museum’s contents were taken to safe areas,” he told reporters. But Abdulkarim warned that the Islamic State group’s control of the town remains a danger to its archaeological sites.